“Imran Khan’s recent Freudian slip reveals a lot.”
Two interesting things happened recently in the chaotic drama that is Pakistani politics: one is that the prime minister (PM) actually deigned to show up in the parliament, and the second is that he referred to al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden as a “shaheed [martyr]” during his speech on the floor of the National Assembly.
Imran Khan, speaking in the context of his usual “the world has mistreated Pakistan” narrative, referred to the Abottabad raid saying, “One thing that happened was that the Americans came and killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad… martyred him” — or in Urdu, “Abbottabad may aa kr maar diya… shaheed kar diya.” People picked up on this quickly and social media erupted in astonishment and dismay.
This was then followed by the very amusing attempts of IK apologists to clarify what “he actually meant”. One of his advisors attempted to fudge the facts by tweeting that the PM “twice used the word ‘killed’ for OBL” and that all the ensuing hoo-ha was actually a conspiracy “with clear attempt to make his remarks controversial unnecessarily”.
But the fact is that his remark is controversial. His slip of tongue reflects possibly his true political leanings and seems to be the logical continuation of the position he has taken on various issues over the years.
“He [Imran] is the man who despite (or maybe because of ) his elitist Lahori upbringing and western education, has always taken very right-wing and regressive political positions.”
He is the man who tried to portray the Taliban to western media as “misunderstood freedom fighters”, who was in favour of “negotiating” with militants, and who advocated for them being allowed to open an office — as if to suggest that they were a serious political group rather than a group of armed religious extremists responsible for the bloody attacks and bombings that resulted in the killing of thousands of Pakistanis (civilians, uniformed personnel, school children, teachers).
He is also the man who despite (or maybe because of ) his elitist Lahori upbringing and western education, has always taken very right-wing and regressive political positions. After his return to Pakistan, he became something of a born-again Muslim and also something of a born-again Pashtun, and his closest political allies over the decades have been right-wing and religious parties.
Apart from official spokespersons trying to clarify and defend the PM’s choice of words, there were also several others, including some non-official ones like the TV news anchor who describes himself on Twitter not as a ‘columnist’ but as a ‘prominent columnist.’ This gentleman tweeted repeatedly in defence of the great leader and he came out with a few gems about the leader’s slip of tongue, even bringing puja, idols and Modi into the conversation! He also remarked that “the discussion was not about OBL” but about how IK’s government “has improved communication and engagement with the US & the world”.
The way the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has reacted to this matter, illustrates both the way that it functions as well as the way in which Imran himself conducts his politics. For one thing, IK does not seem to believe in any sort of political dialogue of any kind of engagement that might lead to consensus.
“‘I am right’ could easily be his motto in life (inching even further towards the far right). You can call this either immense self-belief or insufferable arrogance…”
His approach seems to be that when he talks, everybody else should listen. His speeches are a mixture of pseudo-Islamic nationalism and political self-righteousness, peppered with abuse for opposition members. His contempt for parliament is evinced by his poor attendance record as well as the fact that he has not bothered to do any legislative work in parliament or do anything on any committees or in any other way be part of the community of parliamentarians. But when he talks, people should listen, and people who disagree with him are wrong.
“I am right” could easily be his motto in life (inching even further towards the far right). You can call this either immense self-belief or insufferable arrogance — but the problem with this tendency is that it is often an impediment in the process of learning and developing. Which raises the question that: after 22 years in the field has Imran Khan evolved politically? Will he ever be able to?
The answer to this question is unclear but it is a sad fact that a man who so many Pakistanis wished so well because he was a national cricket hero (and eye candy) has become a divisive, rude and arrogant leader. He has some good ideas generally perhaps and also has the persistence to keep going, but the “I am right” mantra will only get you so far in life.